I have confined this glossary to terms directly concerned with land-assessment. Not everyone will agree with every definition offered here. Some still favour treen from Gaelic trian (third). With terms like cleitig or cionag I can believe there may have been regional idiosyncracies – i.e. these terms represent very small amounts and it may be that what counted as very small varied slightly across Gaelic Scotland. We must also allow for an enormous number of spelling variations on the words printed below. This is further compounded amongst those which became place-names.


To clarify matters I have prefaced the glossary with a breakdown of the four main systems involved. The plethora of terms can soon make land-assessment confusing – particularly when terms belonging to different systems were used concurrently. RMS I (520) of 1372-3 talks of ouncelands, merklands, pennylands and davachs – so invoking three different systems in one document. The 1722 Islay rental refers to merklands, quarterlands and cowlands – again invoking different categories of reckoning. Contemporaries could move quite happily between them; we must learn to.



Merklands (1m = 13s 4d) were compounded (2m = 26s 8d etc) or divided (½m = 6s 8d etc). They were sometimes expressed as shillinglands or poundlands. So a 3m land could be described as a 40s land or a £2 land; a 7½m land would probably be called a 100s land or a £5 land.


Ouncelands and pennylands

An ounceland in our area was subdivided into 20 pennylands. Common groupings were 2½d, 5d and 10d units.

Pennylands could be subdivided into halfpennylands, farthinglands, cleitigs and cionags.


Carucates (ploughlands) and bovates (oxgangs)

Each ploughland could be subdivided into 8 oxgangs. (2 oxgangs made a virgate or husbandland). Oxgangs could then be subdivided into individual acres.



Davachs were subdivided into quarterlands and eighthlands. In Islay the subdivision was more radical still.



Although the whole units are never named in Islay I think they were davachs. (Each was worth 10m under the Scottish merkland system). These whole units were subdivided into quarterlands (each worth 33s 4d or 2½m Scots) and then into eighthlands (16s 8d or 1¼m).  Below these were:

léirtheas = 1/16 land (8s 4d)

còta-ban (or kerroran or groat-land) = 1/32 land (4s 2d)

dà-sgillinn (or 2s land) = 1/64 land (2s 1d)


The last two names derive from the conversion rate between Scots money and sterling (1s Scots = 1d sterling) about the eighteenth century.





bovata (bovate) – Latin term for Anglo-Scandinavian oxgate or oxgang; ⅛ ploughgate


carucata (carucate) –  Latin term for Anglo-Scandinavian ploughgate, 8 oxgangs


ceathramh – Gaelic for fourth, Dwelly (p 184) states ‘Measure of 8-fourpenny lands’ which is an Islay definition since 8 groat-lands there equal 1 quarterland.


cionag – Macbain says a small portion of land, ¼ of a cleitig or ⅛ of a farthingland (i.e. 1/32d). Dwelly (p 196) says the same. Thomas (1885-6, p 211) says cianog was a ¼ farthing (i.e. 1/16d). Macbain draws attention to Welsh ceiniog, a penny. However, in Harris a cionag was 1/64d. (See note below).


cleitig, clitig – Macbain says a measure of land ⅛ of a pennyland. Dwelly (p 208) says the same. Thomas (1885-6, p 211) says a clitag was ⅛ farthing or 1/32d. Unfortunately the data about cleitig is contradictory. I give two pieces of eighteenth-century  evidence, both concerning South Uist, which agree with Dwelly and Macbain:


i)  D Bruce, Rental, 1748 (E 744/1/1 p 42), “Howmore … That each of them possesses a Three Clitack, or farthing and a half Land” – therefore a cleitig = ⅛d

ii)  GD 128/49/3/1 of 1798 “two cliticks make a one farthing land” – in the context of Kilaulay, South Uist.


In Harris though, the situation was different. This is implied by the OSA:

The common and ancient computation of lands in these countries is by pennies, of which the subdivisions are halfpennies, farthings, half farthings, clitigs etc.

OSA, vol 10, p 366, Harris, published 1794

That a cleitig was one-quarter of a farthing and a cionag one-quarter of a cleitig is confirmed by a rental for 1685. (See note below).


còta-ban – groat (4d) land. Dwelly (p 258) states ‘Fourpence land’. This is specific to Islay where four pence sterling (or 4s 2d Scots) represented 1/32 of the main unit which was probably a davach.


cowland, keyland etc – only found in Islay where it was ¼m or 3s 4d land. There would therefore be 40 cowlands to a davach of 10m. Vaccata in Latin. Thomas (1884) pp 274-5 discusses the ‘cowsworth’ which was a unit of valuation in Orkney.


dabhach, davach, davoch, daugh, dach-, doch-, – primary unit in Pictish land-assessment system. Meaning in Gaelic is vat or tub. Dwelly (p 305) quotes MacBain, Watson, Skene and MacKinnon. The davach seems to have consisted, sometimes of 8 oxgates (Assynt), sometimes of 32 oxgates (Banffshire).


dà-sgillinn – two shilling land or half a còta-ban. This is specific to Islay and represented 1/64 of the main unit. The còta-ban was a 4d land (in terms of English currency) or a 4s land (in terms of Scots currency) because, about the eighteenth century, the conversion rate between the two was 1s (Scots) = 1d (English). The dà-sgillinn land took its name from its Scots currency valuation (2s 1d) but, confusingly, could also be thought of as half a groat-land (4d land).


eighthland (ochdamh in Gaelic) – usually meant an eighth of a davach but is also found in areas (such as Islay) where we cannot prove that the main unit was a davach


ertog – one-third of an ounce in Scandinavian system of weights


eyrisland – urisland or ounceland


fàirdean – Dwelly p 406 refers to feòirling or farthing. See under fàrdan below.


fàrdan – Dwelly p 416 refers to feòirling or farthing. Whilst fàrdan never occurs as a land-assessment term in the area under study it does occur in place-names in Carrick and Dumfriesshire. I am not going to try and follow the transmogrification of the farthing, from a unit of account into a unit of land-assessment, through English, Norse, Scots and Gaelic as they intermingled in SW Scotland – but it would be difficult to argue for any purity of transmission. Domesday Book offers further metamorphoses under ferding or ferling (quarter of a virgate) in SW England.


feòirlig – Macbain says a farthingland, feòirling – from the Anglo-Saxon


feòirling, also feòirlinn – farthing, Dwelly p 428 states ‘¼ of a peighinn’ (pennyland)


groat – 4d


groat-land – 4d land, see under còta-ban


horsegang – imported land-assessment measure found in rentals etc in areas such as Knapdale, Kilmartin, Craignish and Islay from the seventeenth century.


house – claimed to be basic Dalriadic land-assessment unit. Used for military levy in Senchus Fer nAlban. Taigh/tigh and treabh are found in place-names.


husbandland – two-bovate units (or virgates) common in SE Scotland


kerroran – Islay, the older(?) name for 1/32 land, also called còta-ban which was a groat-land or four-penny land. Variant spellings include kerrowran, kerrowrane, kerrewrane. The term also appears in Colonsay.


léirtheas – A 1/16 land, or half an eighthland, in Islay. Dwelly (p 582) states ‘Two fourpenny lands’ which is an Islay definition. Forbes (Place-names of Skye, p 237) suggested Liveras in Strath, Skye, as a possible instance. Variant spellings include leorheis, lewres, leor-theas, lewirheis, lewrheis, lorheis. From leòir (a sufficiency)?


leth-pheighinn – half-penny; into place-names as Lephen, Leffen etc


mail-land – a unit only found in Coll, Tiree and Gunna. 48 mail-lands to a tirung.


merk – originally Scandinavian unit of weight consisting of 8 ounces. Later became a unit of account worth 160d.


merkland – land-assessment unit of Lowland Scottish administration from the twelfth century. (1 merk = 13s 4d or 160d).


ochdamh – an eighth or an eighthland. Dwelly (p 702) states ‘Four pennylands, an eighth of a davoch’. I think the first part of this is a simple mistake. It is clear from his definition of còta-ban (p 258) that he meant ‘four times four pennylands or four groatlands’.


ora – ounce, Scandinavian unit of weight which also became a unit of account. In Chester in Domesday Book (Penguin, 2003, p 716) the fine for the person in whose house a fire started was ‘3 orae of pennies’. In one of the manors of Herefordshire (p 495) the reeve in Edward the Confessor’s day presented the lady of the manor with ’18 orae of pence so that she should be well disposed’.


ounceland – land ‘worth’ one ounce of silver, either as yearly rent or purchase price. Divided into 20 pennylands in the west, 18 in the far north. Also known as eyrisland, urisland, tirung or treen. Normally unciata in Latin.


oxgang (also oxgate/oxgait) – ⅛ ploughgate. Bovata (bovate) in Latin


peighinn – penny, pennyland. Dwelly p 719 equates to a còta-ban or groat-land. I know of no justification for this. In Islay a còta-ban was 1/32 of a unit which is never named but which I think was a davach or ounceland. A pennyland on the west coast was 1/20th of an ounceland. Dwelly then gives a long note about land-assessment by Rev Dr Campbell, Broadford, who was one of his authorities for Argyll and Uist. Rev Campbell gives interesting examples of the extended use of the term peighinn in Elgol, Skye, but his table for Islay is not fully correct. Peighinn occurs in place-names as pen-, pean- and is even corrupted into beinn.


ploughgate/ploughland – Anglo-Scandinavian carucate consisting of 8 oxgangs


quarterland (ceathramh in Gaelic) – usually meant a quarter of a davach but found in areas (such as Islay and Tiree) where we cannot prove that the main unit was a davach.


taigh – house. One of the words used in Senchus Fer nAlban to indicate a Dalriadic house-unit. Into place-names as Tigh-, Ty- etc.


tirung – tir (land) + ung (ounce) so literally land-ounce or ounceland


treabh – farmed village, Dwelly (p 967). Occurs in place-names in parts of Southern Scotland but doubtful in our area.


treen – Manx unit equivalent to tirung or ounceland


Trifiorlin – three farthingland? I know of one, possibly two, places called Trifiorlin.


yardland – virgate or 2 bovates or ¼ carucate. Virgata in Latin. See also husbandland.


urisland – eyrisland or ounceland


vaccata – Latin for cowland which was 1/40th of a davach(?) in Islay.


virgata (virgate) – Latin term for ‘yardland’ which was 2 bovates/oxgangs and therefore ¼ carucate. Common in SE Scotland as husbandlands.




Cleitig and cionag

We have a rental from 1685 for Harris (NRAS 2950/2/487/9) where the 1 pennyland of Rodel was divided into ‘clitticks’ and ‘kinocks’. (A clittick was ¼ of a farthing, a kinock was ¼ of a clittick). Among the 20-odd tenants the largest holding was ⅛ of a penny, the smallest 1 kinock or 1/64th of a penny. The rents were carefully staggered so that a kinock paid 5m, two kinocks (or half a clittick) paid 10 merks and 3 kinocks paid 15m. When we get to 4 kinocks or 1 clittick there is a slight change because this only paid 18 merks but also had to find a wedder. Two clitticks or ⅛d paid 36m. While the rents in Rodel may not be typical it is a good example of the degree of refinement the pennyland system offered. It also shows the gulf between great and small. At the top of the tree Macleod of Dunvegan (and Harris) owned something like 26 ouncelands (26 x 20 = 520d). At the other end of the social scale some of his tenants might only hold 1/64th of a pennyland. By this time the pennyland system had been in place for nearly 700 years and was still the fiscal base for the West Highlands and Hebrides. In the same rental for Rodel we have tithes at one-tenth of the rental or 32m. Elsewhere in Harris cess was calculated at 4m per pennyland.


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